Personal safety apps – no substitute for common sense (or kickboxing)

We’ve never been so well connected. James Bond used to have to lug multiple high tech toys around on his adventures, but now the majority of us have sophisticated computers in our coat pockets. Smartphones are indispensable for work and recreation, but could they also keep you safe? The following personal safety apps harness GPS and contact lists to offer a bit of extra backup.

But wait – none of these apps replace preventative measures. It’s a sad fact that street harassment and attacks come out of the blue, but there’s a lot we can do to stay safe in the first place. Staying alert and keeping an eye and an ear out for potential threats (get your head out of your phone and turn that music down!), taking care where you walk at night and letting friends know where you’re going can all help. As can kickboxing classes.

For that extra layer of mobile geekery, safety apps can be divided in to two main categories:

1. Countdown timers with alerts sent to emergency contacts

These apps track your movements via GPS for an amount of time specified by you, alerting your emergency contact list if you fail to check in to your destination. Some also have a fake call feature, will alert you if you enter a high crime area and allow family and friends to virtually walk with you.

Useful for: late night running, lunch dates and taxi rides with strangers.

Watch Over Me, bSafe and StaySafe (this one is £4.99, ouch!).

2. SOS alerts / virtual emergency phone line

These send a silent SOS message to your network of emergency contacts including a map of your location. Additional features include tracking for family and friends and direct contact with emergency services, which also updates them if your location changes.

Useful for: if you get lost and need your friends to come and find you, if you think you’re being followed or if you’re ever injured or taken captive.

Guardly, React MobileAlert 5 and Circle of 6

All of these apps could offer you some extra support, but it’s worth noting they are inherently flawed by being located on your phone. Smartphone batteries run down quickly during the day even when GPS isn’t running in the background, so you’d have to keep a track of that and make sure you had enough juice for your journey. Most of us use screenlocks, so when you’re setting up the app you’d need to practice accessing it quickly. If you were approached by a potential attacker, would you have enough time to access the app before they took your phone off you?

Given the potential difficulty of firing up these apps under pressure, you might find the most useful safety apps are the ones that help you find a licensed taxi.

Hailo, Uber and mytaxi

Stay safe out there!

Laura Kidd

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